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Reconciliation
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September 21, 2014

A leader of a big company was complaining in a staff meeting the other day that he wasn’t getting any respect.  Later that morning he went out and got a small sign that read, “I’m the Boss”.  He then hung it at his office door.  Later that day when he returned from lunch, he found that someone had taped a note to the sign that said.  “Your wife called, she wants her sign back!”

Last weekend, some people greeted me: “Welcome back Father Philip, how was your vacation?”  This greeting puzzled me since my last vacation was 9 months ago. Then I realized that maybe the people saw Fr. John at 8:30 and 10:30 Masses and thought I was on vacation!  Actually I was away for 4 days-not for vacations-but for a course called “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds.” This 29 day course spreads from September 2014 to March 2016.  Don’t be surprised if I’m away a few days a month.  The fee for the course is $9,600. The Diocese covers ½ of the cost. The Employer (Parish/Agency/Diocese) covers ¼ and the individual priest covers the remaining ¼.

Hopefully your priest will get better in his role as a leader and a shepherd.  This month marks the 12th anniversary of the death of one of the best leaders and shepherds I ever met: my former teacher, the late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.

The scene was a prison for political and religious prisoners near Saigon City.  Two army generals sent for a prisoner, Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.  He was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Saigon Archdiocese.  The army generals received him with unusual politeness.  Bishop Francis Xavier knew at once that they wanted something from him.  Francis Xavier had already served two years in prison for just being a Catholic Bishop.

"Would you like a remission?"  They asked him.

He did not answer but asked: "What do I have to do?"

At that time, the government wanted all Catholics in Vietnam cut off their relationship with the Mother Church in Rome.  Some Catholics and priests had separated themselves from the Universal Church and formed a patriotic church.  The government needed someone who had a strong influence on the people of God, and they chose their prisoner, Archbishop Francis Xavier.  One army general offered: "We will release you and make you the head of the Catholic Church in Vietnam separated from Rome.  If you agree, you will be free in two weeks."

Francis Xavier looked away, and was silent for a long time.  He knew their game.  For the first time in two years the idea of home and freedom was suddenly so close, so accessible.  All he had to do was to betray his Church and lead his people doing the same.  He had to make a choice between loyalty to Christ and betrayal.  Then he gave a final answer: "I won't do it.  It's not in my line."

A few days later he was on the train to a deserted place where starvation, sickness, hard work and death awaited him.  No fate on earth could be worse.  Yet he was at peace with himself and with the Lord. Was he a great leader and shepherd?  Would not Christ be proud of him?  The question is irrelevant.  The next 11 years treated him as a worst criminal.  But wherever he found himself, he converted everyone, from the fellow prisoners to the guards.  From a human point of view what he did made no sense.  But surely the words of Christ apply to him: "You also go to work in my vineyard."

After serving 13 years in prison, he was released and kicked out of the country.  He went to Rome, continued his mission as the head of Justice and Peace of Vatican and proclaimed the goodness of God to the world.  Saint Pope John Paul II made him Cardinal.  The years in prison left him a mark: cancer.  He died 12 years ago.  And here are the words that St. John Paul II said about him, “This great priestly and episcopal figure of his country thatgave witness to his faith in Christ with exemplary fidelity and courage, being closely associated to his mission through his ministry and his passion due to the suffering that he endured. On the Pontifical Council, he was a craftsman, convinced and full of affection, of reconciliation, justice and peace among human beings and peoples. ... May his testimony strengthen and encourage pastors and the faithful in proclaiming the Gospel".

Please pray for your priests to be “good leaders, good shepherds.